“As we stood in front of the fire, steaming out our wet clothes, after having risked death by drowning, exposure, and pneumonia, after having been up since black night, after having rowed and poled miles, after having frozen fingers setting out decoys and having frozen feet from inactivity – after having been uncomfortable constantly in the quest for a few pounds of bird meat that I didn’t like to eat too terribly well, I concluded one thing: if you have to be crazy to hunt ducks, I do not wish to be sane.”
Robert Ruark, from “You Got to be Crazy to be a Duck Hunter” from the book “The Old Man and the Boy”
In the outdoors realm, there are few things more disconcerting than sinking a warm, dry socked foot into a pair of frigid chest waders.
A set of waders that suddenly reminds you that one boot foot in particular took on enough water during your last hunt to sink the Titanic.
A boot that yours truly forgot to dry out.
Simply put, there’s no good time to discover that you are, in fact, a forgetful dunce when it comes to “Waders 101.”
But that is especially true when an Arctic blue norther has roared into North Texas overnight, dropping temps into the 20s, wind chills into the teens, and bringing a wind-driven drizzle that is freezing on contact.
What do you do in such a circumstance?
Simple…you stay on mission, especially when the 2010-11 duck season is about to sing its swan song.
So that’s what I dutifully did as I used my camera to record the early stages of a hunt that Pottsboro’s J.J. Kent and McKinney’s Kevin Harding were embarking upon yesterday morning on a beautiful cattail choked body of water.
Kent, a Mossy Oak and Buck Gardner Calls pro-staffer, and Harding, an enthusiastic waterfowler of some 20 plus years, go way back.
All the way back to Lubbock, Texas, in fact, where the two men met while students at Texas Tech University.
Except it wasn’t a class, a Red Raiders’ pigskin game, or a cross-campus hike that provided their first meeting.
Instead, it was while training their respective black Labrador retrievers on a local playa lake.
Kent, who owned a once-in-a-lifetime dog named Whiskey, and Harding, who owned an equally adept dog named Harley, became lifelong friends.
And card-carrying members of the Texas waterfowl hunting fraternity, a club that still lures grown men to the edges of insanity with pre-dawn gatherings interspersed with occasional bouts of frostbite in a good winter.
Or the beginning stages of hypothermia, an affliction that I was sure I was experiencing when the morning cattail action proved slower than expected.
And brought the idea of retreating.
But not for some place warm and dry.
But instead for Kent’s big Xpress duck boat rig and a wind-tossed ride to a sheltered duck hole, a spot that should lure in all forms of flying fowl looking to escape the howling waters of Lake Texoma.
I guess my teeth were chattering too hard to offer much in the way of protest.
Besides, if I was going to die courtesy of Jack Frost, I at least wanted to trade in the Nikon for the Remington and go out in a blaze of glory.
So a couple of hours later, as I tried in vain to burrow deeper into space-age clothing supposed to keep one warm, I looked up just in time.
To see a spectacular hooded merganser dropping his flaps and putting down the landing gear as he reached for the decoy spread.
Cold or not, I didn’t miss that gimmee shot opportunity at a bird that is now on its way to my wall.
To be honest, the hope for a string of greenheads never materialized despite the fact that our trio saw plenty of mallards on the wing.
Even with Kent’s superb calling on a Double Nasty XL call, the greenheads had other ideas. That’s late season wise guys for you.
But as the Arctic blow continued, occasional shot opportunities would present themselves as a variety of duck species provided a mixed bag smorgasbord of shooting opportunity.
At one point or another, mallards, teal, gadwalls, shovelers, and even a plump late season goldeneye drake all came calling to our decoy spread as ice built on the tossing blocks.
And most of the time, one or more of those birds stayed behind for Kent’s current Lab, Bo, to retrieve after the smoke from spent gunpowder had been torn away on the wind.
For the record, Harding is a very good shot and he didn’t miss many shot opportunities with his Benelli.
All except a canvasback drake, of course, a regal bull can that none of us is talking about anymore.
Also for the record, Kent is an equally deadly shot who seldom misses.
And then there’s me, a hunter whose shooting ability shined early on in the game, then proceeded to disappear faster than the Dallas Cowboys’ playoff chances did this last fall.
My shooting expertise was particularly embarrassing on the goldeneye drake that I had an opportunity to knock down.
I guess I can blame a sore shoulder. Or the supposed hypothermia. Or the teeth chattering. Or even the numb foot in a frozen boot.
Or better yet, I can blame the insanity of hunting late season ducks on the wings of an Arctic blow.
Cold or not, that’s a malady that I hope to never be cured of.
As long as ducks continue to fly on a north wind.